What can Nepal expect in 2017

Nepal ahead of historic parliamentary elections

The teams of international election observers have already arrived in Nepal ahead of the elections scheduled for November 26th and December 7th. On these two days, the Nepalese are supposed to decide on the composition of their parliament, which will then elect a new government.

The elections are very important for Nepal. The last parliamentary elections were held in 1999, amid the civil war between the government and a Maoist rebel group. After signing a peace treaty in 2006, the Nepalese elected constituent assemblies in 2008 and 2013. Although these also acted as a legislature, their main task was to pass a new constitution. That happened in September 2015. The upcoming parliamentary election is now Nepal's first in 18 years.

Maoist veteran P. K. Dahal ("Prachanda") resigned as prime minister in May. Now he could come back to power - in an alliance with his previous communist rivals.

End of chronic instability?

Will this choice put an end to chronic political instability in the country? This is a question that worries many Nepalese. Because not only the ten-year civil war with the Maoists and the devastating earthquake in April 2015 severely damaged Nepal's development. Not a single government has managed to survive a full term since 1990. The office of prime minister has changed 24 times in 27 years. Most recently, governments were often in power for less than a year. Major political and economic reform programs, which Nepal urgently needs, cannot be implemented in this way.

Nepal expert Julia Strasheim: The fate of the country continues to be dominated by power-hungry men

What can we expect from a left alliance?

The formation of a left alliance between the Maoists and the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML) has therefore recently drawn attention. These two parties secured first and third place respectively in the local elections last summer, while the Nepali Congress came in second. Now they have announced that they want to form a unified communist party after the elections.

The left alliance will certainly make it difficult for the other political parties to gain a majority in parliament. But it won't provide stability. In the past, Nepal's communist parties in particular were notoriously threatened with secession if these served the personal interests of individual elites. Since the end of the civil war, for example, some ultra-left factions split off from the Maoists in 2012, 2014 and 2015. One of the splinter parties could only be distinguished from its parent party by a different spelling - "CPN-M" instead of "CPN (M)".

The problem of splitting up the communist movement in Nepal will not change in the future either. Because with the former rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (who is still under his nom de guerre Prachanda or "the combative") and UML boss K. P. Oli are two of the most power-hungry men in Nepal at the head of the alliance.

When there is little internet usage, radio is still the No. 1 medium in Nepal, with over 550 stations. Many of them are mouthpieces for political parties.

Unsolved minority problem

Party-political gimmicks are only in second place for voters. They finally want a stable government so that economic development can take place, jobs can be created and more money can be spent on education, road construction and healthcare. The Madhesi minority on the border strip with India in the south of the country (Terai) would also like to have a stronger voice in the political system. For the last two years she has been protesting against the current constitution, by which she feels discriminated against. It is unlikely that the left alliance can offer a solution here. Maoists and the UML have positioned themselves very differently in the past on the Madhesi question, for example on the question of whether or not the federal structure of Nepal should reflect ethnic dividing lines.

Multi-ethnic, multi-religious - and wedged between powerful neighbors China and India

 

China as an interested observer

But if the alliance actually constitutes the ruling party, China in particular will be happy. The UML chairman Oli and, to a certain extent, Prachanda from the Maoists are considered "friends of China", so both have opened the door wide for Chinese infrastructure projects in the past. China is primarily concerned with protecting its interests in Nepal, for example securing the border with Tibet.

Dr. Julia Strasheim did research on Nepal and is a research assistant at the Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt Foundation in Hamburg